Cummins’ fourth novel is a fictional work that tells the story of a mother who flees Mexico for the United States with her son after her family is targeted by the powerful leader of her country’s most powerful drug cartel.
Winfrey was touched by the story’s heartbreaking premise, taking to Instagram to sing her praises of the new release. “This book just gutted me,” she told her 17 million followers, American Dirt in hand. “I didn’t just read this book — I inhabited this book...everything about it was extraordinary.”
Unfortunately, the novel got the opposite reception from Latinx readers and writers and the Mexican immigrant community. As Winfrey and other literature authorities like Stephen King and John Grisham praised the book, their glowing reviews of American Dirt were quickly drowned out by the voices decrying it.
Many critiques of the novel stem from the fact that it is a story about the suffering of brown people written at the hands of an author who herself has acknowledged that she is “not qualified to talk about race.” Along with other writers of colour, Mexican and Mexican American reviewers took Cummins to task for penning the tale about the nuanced Mexican political climate through what one particularly scathing review described as the “eyes of a pearl-clutching American tourist.”
Soon enough, Winfrey and her team caught wind of the controversy swirling around the novel, and the television producer decided to tackle critics head on. The Hollywood heavyweight announced that she would be hosting a discussion about American Dirt.
"I've spent the past few days listening to members of the Latinx community to get a better understanding of their concerns, and I hear them," Winfrey said. "So what I want to do is bring people together from all sides to talk about this book and who gets to publish what stories."
"I'm hoping that that is going to resonate with you and your concerns," she concluded.
No word on whether Cummins and her critics are scheduled to speak at the forum, which will stream on AppleTV+ in March per Winfrey's latest deal with the streaming service. Either way, the discussion will likely include the controversial topics of cultural appropriation, trauma porn, and diversity within the publishing industry.